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Supreme Court Leaves Ohio Voting Restrictions In Place

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to intervenein a voting rights case from Ohio on Tuesday, leaving intact a reduction of early voting days that was enacted by the state's Republican-controlled Legislature.

The cutback still allows for 23 days in which voters can cast in-person ballots prior to Election Day, but it eliminates the so-called Golden Week in which voters can both register and cast ballots.

The state argued that it was within its rights to eliminate that week to ease the administrative burden on state and local officials, and it noted that it had added an extra Sunday to early voting to settle a challenge brought by the NAACP. Ohio Democrats, however, maintained that the remaining cutback still placed a disproportionate burden on minority voters.

This summer, the Supreme Court has repeatedly refused to intervene in voting rights cases so close to the November election. In other cases, that has meant the court has left intact lower court rulings that struck down strict voter ID laws and limits on early voting. In this one case, however, it meant that the lower court decision upholding the early voting rollback was left in place.

Privately, Democratic lawyers were not surprised by the court's action Tuesday, since they had little expectation of blocking the Ohio cutbacks — especially compared with the far more draconian changes in other states such as Texas, North Carolina and Michigan.

Indeed, Ohio was considered the outlier in a series of cases testing voting rights cutbacks, because the Buckeye State still left more than three weeks for voters to cast ballots prior to Election Day on Nov. 8.

In 2013, the Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act that for decades had required areas with a history of discrimination in voting to get advance clearance from the U.S. Justice Department prior to making any changes in voting procedures. Within weeks of that ruling, Republican-controlled state legislatures began enacting laws that made voting more difficult — cutting back on early voting days, adopting strict voter ID provisions, and other measures.

In the three years since, challenges to those provisions in Texas, North Carolina and Michigan, among other places, have made their way through the lower courts and in the past three months were struck down by federal appeals courts as deliberate attempts to burden minority voters. Ohio went the other way.

This summer, as the November election draws near, the Supreme Court declined to intervene at the behest of states seeking to block the lower court decisions that struck down the new restrictions. In those cases, some or all of the court's conservative justices voted to block the lower court decisions and reinstate the cutbacks, but they fell short of the necessary five votes to prevail.

By contrast, in the Ohio case, where the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the cutback, the liberal justices did not vote to intervene. The court's one-line order leaving the cutbacks intact noted no dissents.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.